First flu cases reported in Vermont

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(Host) Vermont’s flu season is officially under way. The Vermont Health Department announced on Tuesday that the state’s first cases of influenza have been reported. And the department says the state’s supply of flu vaccine is lasting longer than originally anticipated.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) Until now Vermont was one of a number of states with no reported cases of influenza. The health department has now confirmed two cases of Type A influenza one in Chittenden, the other in Franklin county.

At the beginning of the flu season the health department faced a critical shortage of the flu vaccine. Working with hospitals and other health care providers the state pooled the available vaccine and announced that only those at high risk of complications from the flu should get the shots.

The message was so effective that even as additional vaccine became available, many people who are qualified to receive shots have been holding back. Dr. Paul Jarris is Vermont’s Health Commissioner.

(Jarris) “So our message clearly to Vermonters is: if you’re over 75, if you’re chronically ill, if you’re a very young kid between 6 months and 23 months or if you’re pregnant – we’ve got enough vaccine for you. We’ve gotten the sicker Vermonters, it’s your turn.”

(Zind) The state expects to receive another 16 thousand doses of flu vaccine in the coming weeks. Jarris says once the state is convinced that everyone at risk has been given the opportunity to get vaccinated, the remainder of the vaccine could be made available to anyone who wants it.

Jarris says despite the shortage, the effort this year to make sure the vaccine got to the highest risk people first may mean fewer serious illnesses and deaths from the flu.

(Jarris) “In any past year, because we gave it willy-nilly, we had no way of knowing that the kid with cystic fibrosis got it before the healthy 15-month old got it. So I think we’ll probably have less severe illness, less hospitalization and less death in Vermont this year because we know the people at greatest risk of that outcome have gotten it first.”

(Zind) Jarris says in future years, even if there is an adequate supply, the state should have a more systematic way of distributing the vaccine. Jarris says the vaccine being given out is effective against the type of influenza that’s now occurring in Vermont.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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